In the Spirit of the Beats

Nine years ago when Franci Louann (third prize winner of the 2019 Burnaby Writers Contest with “Selling the Pinto,” a contest she’s placed in since the 1980s, and a regular on the Vancouver poetry scene, once winning “all the prizes” in a Pandora’s Collective contest) and Candice James (New Westminster Poet Laureate Emerite) founded Poetic Justice out of Renaissance Books in New Westminster, Warren Dean Fulton was the first feature. Now he is the weekly host of Poetic Justice/ Poetry New West every Sunday from 2-4 PM at The Heritage Grill in New West, with the exception of holiday weekends. The series is still thriving in the heart of the city at its new location at the Heritage Grill.

Hosting comes as naturally to Warren Dean Fulton as writing. I’ve seen him answer film business calls on stage, which only adds to the energy. His unique hosting style is to fill the room with his generous and uplifting spirit, complete with literary trivia prizes from his past publishing company and gems he’s picked up from his life in the arts.

I met with Fulton to ask him what he sees as the role of a literary arts host, how he adapts to unique communities and circumstances, where he’d like to see hosting go, and his advice for other communities in BC wanting to bring some of the excitement he conveys into their events, tips for getting and keeping regulars engaged, etc. We both spent our early twenties in central Canada, so we reminisced about his literary history as a poet, funny anecdotes from days on the Ottawa arts scene, his pooka press publishing company, up to the present where he balances film work, writing, publishing and hosting here in British Columbia.

My first question was about how he energizes literary communities and he explained, “I see the role of a facilitator of a cultural or social event as the person who moves things forward, keeps it entertaining and keeps the audience captivated. I try to make it fun. Ezra Pound said, ‘Make it new.’ I try to liven and invigorate by bringing the unexpected to a reading series. That appoach came about when I started the Vanilla Reading Series (VHS) in an ice-cream parlour and had to work it  just trying to get people to pay attention to the fact that something was going on. Most of my hosting is done on Sundays. It’s my church. I worship at the Church of Poetry. Now at the Heritage Grill, it’s a courtroom, a kangaroo court.” That is an excellent explanation of what goes on at Poetic Justice, with presents from the Fred Cogswell archive for features and opportunities for everyone in attendance to win trivia prizes, so long as the Judge Fulton’s orders are followed.

Fulton began his history of literary hosting in the 1990s at Carleton University in Ottawa while he was president of the English Literature Society. While co-editing The Carleton Arts Review with rob mclennan, he began a series in the ice cream shop he worked at, Lois ‘n’ Frima’s Homemade Ice Cream on Elgin Street. This twice monthly Vanilla Reading Series (VRS), was hosted by Warren from 1993-1994 with fantastic full sundae prizes. Fulton’s penchant for delightful rewards and making the ordinary extraordinary began right there on Elgin Street. Coming from the central Canadian literary scene myself, I still have posters from the Vanilla Reading Series in the Byward Market. If you look closely, the letters VRS imply verse. While Fulton is excellent on the fly at the mic, a significant amount of thought goes into naming, planning and promoting the events that he facilitates.

It was around this time that Fulton also started pooka press, his chapbook, broadside and literary ephemera poetry press. I still have several chapbooks from that time and was recently able to replace one by Jeffrey Mackie that had been lost in a basement suite flood, when I was given a new copy of that treasured nineties tribute to the beatniks as a prize at Poetic Justice last summer. The small press was a throwback to the beats, with Fulton photocopying pages and literally cutting and pasting booklets together to highlight the community of poets he was immersed in. The name pooka press, from a Jimmy Stewart film, fit the nineties poetry movement will with its invocations of  shapeshifting and a creative, communal, artistic spirit.

From 1994-1995, Fulton founded and co-hosted the Vogon Reading Series (VRS) with S.R. Morrison at the coolest pub at the edge of the universe, Zaphod Beeblebrox at 27 York Street in the Byward Market of Ottawa, one of my all time favourite hangouts from my twenties. Through use of the internet and plenty of posters on poles, networking in the literary, art and music scenes in Ottawa, the series gained a great following. Turnouts ranged from the 15-20 in size, to over 100 on three separate occasions. Fulton then went on to host book launches, touring poets, and the first Poetry Slam event in Canada.

He moved to Kamloops in late 1995 and by the conclusion of 1996 had founded a poets’ group, first called The Kamloops Poets’ Syndicate, and then named The Kamloops Poets’ Factory, which lasted for a number of years. They held readings in coffee shops, pubs, parks, at The University College of the Caribou (now Thompson Rivers University), art galleries, bookstores, and even in a shopping mall. The organization held workshops, did poetry tours to Vancouver, Vernon and Kelowna, hosted poets such as bill bissett, Joe Rosenblatt, Patrick Lane, Heather Spears, rob mclennan, Anne Stone, Harold Rhenish, and a group of young writers from Prince George who had named themselves a murder of crows.

For employment, Fulton worked at Starbucks, then Tony Roma’s until he found himself partner and manager of a coffeehouse, bookstore, art gallery, performance space. He convinced his colleaguess to name it The Other Place Cafe, as “There is work, there is home, and then there is the other place. We want to be the other place, a place that welcomes with the aim of being a cornerstone in each patron’s day.” That spirit has translated to Sunday afternoons at Poetic Justice/ Poetry New West.

Fulton ran and hosted weekly nights at The Other Place Cafe, on Victoria Street, in downtown Kamloops, an almost anything goes variety show style open stage, every Wednesday. He hosted musicians of all kinds, poets, actors, jugglers, magicians, comedians, a barber shop quartet, dancers, storytellers, a puppeteer, a politician and a mime (yes even a mime). He dubbed it a Gong Show Without the Gong. Anyone could sign up for 5 to10 to 15 minutes each and the show would go as late as the owners and audience wanted, a throw back to coffee houses of the 50’s and 60’s. It was a blast for all who attended. His idea was that anyone and everyone could shine, a philosophy he brings to Royal City Literary Arts Society (RCLAS) events. His vision kept with the Factory idea (KPF) – like Andy Warhol once said, “Everyone would be famous for 15 minutes.” The evenings were iconic, but the business struggled financially. Fulton and the other owners didn’t pay themselves and instead gave freely of their time and capital. He worked from 7 AM until 11 PM most days. Eventually he realized that he didn’t have the stamina to keep the business financially afloat. It was an incredible space and community, but sadly, it wasn’t meant to last.

Fulton applied for and was accepted to the Vancouver Film School. In 2000, he left Kamloops and soon found himself regularly attending readings all over Vancouver: Bukowski’s, Pandora’s Collective Events, KSW readings, The Vancouver Poetry Slam, Thundering Word, UBC, SFU and all the bookstores that had regular readings.

He got involved with Heather Haley’s group of poets and creatives around the Edgewise Electro-Centre Society and became their Events Coordinator for a while, as well as the Festival Director of the 4th (then annual) Vancouver VideoPoem Festival in 2002. He continued to support and be active within the Lower Mainland writing scenes, taking part in Pandora’s Collective, Edgewise, Vancouver Poetry Slam and others as they came and went.

From 2010-2012, he became active with the Real Vancouver Writers Series,  hosting reading events, as well as a calendar of Vancouver poets. As “above and beyond productions,” the organization collaborated on video poetry, chapbooks, and a poets calendar.

In 2013, Fulton and his partner at the time, Catherine Owen, conceived and co-hosted a series called The Living and the Dead, where they paired a living poet with the works of a deceased mentor or friend. During this series, Fulton was able to showcase some of his rather large poetry collection, displaying and speaking about various books by the poets being presented. For more glimpses of this diverse collection, be sure to check out the trivia games at Poetic Justice/ Poetry New West on Sundays!

The Living and the Dead featured: George Bowering paired with Al Purdy, Daphne Marlatt partnered with Roy Kiyooka, Joe Rosenblatt united with Gwendolyn MacEwen, Christine Lowther with her mother Pat Lowther and Kagan Goh with his father Goh Poh Seng.

Fulton has been busy over the past 25 plus years hosting a variety of poetry events, in addition to publishing, promoting, and spending a considerable amount of time fostering poetic community wherever he is. Now, for over a year, he’s been hosting Poetic Justice at the Heritage Grill every Sunday (except holiday weekends). It comes naturally to Fulton to create an inclusive, safe space for high energy fun. Fulton and I spoke for hours about his creative endeavours and the way he reaches out to include everyone he can in the variety of events that he hosts and creates. He talked about how poetry is language in an elevated form, how its truth changes people. His advice to writers through the province and country wanting to start events? “Authenticity,” he says, “be your authentic self in all that you do.”

Be sure to check out Sunday afternoons of Poetic Justice/ Poetry New West if you haven’t already, from 2-4 PM at The Heritage Grill and be prepared to win prizes for literary trivia and rewards for reading on the open mic ranging from books to $100 bills (some fake and once in a while a real one!) The prizes are a treasure trove of Canadian lit history with memorabilia from small to large presses and everything in between. Fulton brings spirit into the venue, reaching inside patrons to get the most from them, creating a haven for regulars and guest poets from around the country.

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